With or without deep human connections, is all the difference...
When I began my years of service in the "Chinatown" of Salinas, with the hungry, homeless, and otherwise marginalized, it was with a youthful fervor that had me thinking that I would / could do something really grand: like end homelessness... But thirty years after those first 65 egg-salad sandwiches given away on a street corner, (I had changed) and I was asking student volunteers as to what they thought the definition of "homeless" was. Invariably, the answers would be sensible, like "Homeless is to be unhoused", or "Homeless is to be too poor to afford rent", obviously correct answers, as far as they went...
After a pregnant pause, I would offer my definition,"To be homeless means that no one would even notice if you simply disappeared..." Latching onto Peter Maurin's favorite word "radical", and his preferred definition of "going to the roots" of a problem, I could see clearly that this "with or without" of deep human connections was the be-all of any possible potential of a positive human life experience. I had learned that I was on the Chinatown streets to be that vital connecting link for horribly lonely lives -- and discovering at the same time a vast cave of emptiness in myself that ended up being filled by the love returned to me by my sisters and brothers whom I served... Wouldn't you know it, but the "server" ends up receiving far more than he / she ever gives...
Sure, over the course of my thirty-odd years on the street, we had served over two million meals, opened a number of shelters, and began numerous other projects, but what I learned was the absolute importance of human connection and touch, of seeing into the eyes of the folks coming to us for help, and just as importantly, of listening to their individual stories... As the years went by, I was cooking less and less, and most of my days were given over to just talking with our guests: and this is what I really want to say: while love is extolled as the be-all / end-all of our lives, that truth is a tad bit off the mark: it is, rather (or more), "I see you and I'm amazed!" This is it! This is what we all crave!
Yep: a life without a home is a miserable life indeed: but what makes for a home? A life without the security of a food source, or of intentional-other-person-sex, is likewise a miserable form of existence. But to go through a seemingly endless string of days without the divine pleasure of another human being communicating in their own way, "I see you and I'm amazed!" is to be functionally homeless -- even if one is living indoors somewhere, perhaps even in the midst of a crowd...
Shifting once again back to Maurin's "radical", it is only the "deeply homed", the folks who have, or have a reasonable hope to again experience "home", who can summon the will or intention to expand the boundaries of their compassion to include a multitude of "others", possibly up to the mystic "everyone". The fundamental human hunger for "being wanted", for experiencing the wonder of another set of eyes to be looking at "me" exclaiming, "I see you and I'm amazed!" is the only solution to the problems that we face as persons, as communities, and as entire peoples. If one is not "deeply homed" in being wanted, how the hell is that person going to summon the grace of believing immigrant Dreamers are worthy of our American fellowship? If one is not "deeply homed" in being wanted, why the hell would that person imagine social justice, economic equality, environmental regeneration, as necessities for everyone? The personal is ultimately profoundly social, and the social is inescapably linked to the well-being of the person: every person. To understand this, is to become sincerely radicalized: everyone and everything matters.
The White House
I find it quite interesting that the political party that for years and years now has identified itself as "the party of traditional values", is seemingly not the least interested in "if", but only in "who". With all the hub-bub going on with "revelations" of a President "on the loose", possibly a danger to both our democracy and world peace, and now to top it all off, an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times that outlines a secret and quiet rebellion in the White House: and we find Republicans urging lie-detector tests to discover the author of the op-ed! An offended Mr. Trump is tossing around the threatening word of "treason"!
I think the dilly-dally of "who" a curious waste of time: anyone who is not asking "if" is either working for Mr. Trump or his own advancement, not for America. But even more important than "if" is "us". We, through our electoral system, put Mr. Trump in the White House: so it is "us" that needs a reckoning. The radical disconnect between our collective "values" and "myths" and our continuing reality of strict adherence to both force and greed (in service to Power) -- as both national policy and cultural identity -- is the beating heart of our societal problems.
What Mr. Trump lacks in verbal clarity is not shared by Israel's Mr. Netanyahu who has said, "The weak crumble, are slaughtered and are erased from history while the strong, for good or for ill, survive. The strong are respected, and alliances are made with the strong, and in the end, peace is made with the strong." No doubt Mr. Trump thinks that might have said these words first! Regardless, they do clearly articulate the perspective of Mr. Trump -- and also of our national policies and cultural values. This is who we are. But is it who we really want to be?
The so-called "operating dysfunction" going on in the White House is nothing other than the operating dysfunction of our entire nation and national identity! We practice what Mr. Netanyahu preaches, and yet we are perhaps the most "religious" nation on Earth -- and many of us like to think the "most Christian". And therein lies the root of national dysfunction. In every way we practice and extol the necessity of greed, of unlimited profits, and of the "best system ever devised by humanity". In every way we practice and extol the necessity of force -- not the gentle force of Gandhi or Thoreau, but the rapacious force of economic exploitation and oppression, and when that loses its effectiveness, of "the greatest military might the world has ever seen".
How do we hear the words of Jesus, of Yeshua bar Alaha, on the Sundays we attend church? Do we uncomfortably squirm when we hear "Woe to you rich" and "Blessed are you poor"? Do we close our ears when the words over the sound system are, "Love your enemies and pray for those who use you badly"? Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump are both counting on all of us to completely ignore the words of Jesus: to believe that what we do does not really matter: that what matters is only the lip service of a "profession of faith"! Such a profession of "faith" allows us to hate our black neighbor, hire police who will shoot him in the back, and guards to man the prisons that hold the survivors of the "war" on our American streets.
Such a profession of "faith" allows us to construct and keep rolling ("The best economy ever!" -- Mr. Trump) a predatory capitalism that is chewing up and spitting out the Planet that we call home: a predatory capitalism that is divvying up resources into the hands of a few, while 1 in 6 children in America suffer from daily food insecurity, and thousands of others around the world suffer the effects of malnutrition every single day, every year. Every minute given over to thinking of "who" may have written his anonymous op-ed and not of "how" we build a world of "small unities", of a new global rEvolution, in keeping with an "Activation of Faith", is our dysfunction and a complete waste of time and energy (which is exactly what Power wants of us).
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.